Memory is the faculty of the mind by which information is encoded,
stored, and retrieved.
Memory is vital to experiences and related to limbic systems, it is
the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing
future action. If we could not remember past events, we could not
learn or develop language, relationships, nor personal identity
Often memory is understood as an informational processing system with
explicit and implicit functioning that is made up of a sensory
processor, short-term (or working) memory, and long-term memory
(Baddely, 2007).[better source needed] This can be related
to the neuron. The sensory processor allows information from the
outside world to be sensed in the form of chemical and physical
stimuli and attended to with various levels of focus and intent.
Working memory serves as an encoding and retrieval processor.
Information in the form of stimuli is encoded in accordance with
explicit or implicit functions by the working memory processor. The
working memory also retrieves information from previously stored
material. Finally, the function of long-term memory is to store data
through various categorical models or systems (Baddely,
2007).[better source needed]
Explicit and implicit functions of memory are also known as
declarative and non-declarative systems (Squire,
2009).[better source needed] These systems involve the
purposeful intention of memory retrieval and storage, or lack thereof.
Declarative, or explicit, memory is the conscious storage and
recollection of data (Graf & Schacter, 1985). Under declarative
memory resides semantic and episodic memory.
Semantic memory refers to
memory that is encoded with specific meaning (Eysenck, 2012), while
episodic memory refers to information that is encoded along a spatial
and temporal plane (Schacter & Addis, 2007; Szpunar, 2010).
Declarative memory is usually the primary process thought of when
referencing memory (Eysenck, 2012).[better source needed]
Non-declarative, or implicit, memory is the unconscious storage and
recollection of information (Foerde & Poldrack, 2009). An example
of a non-declarative process would be the unconscious learning or
retrieval of information by way of procedural memory, or a priming
phenomenon (Eysenck, 2012; Foerde & Poldrack, 2009; Tulving &
Schacter, 1990). Priming is the process of subliminally arousing
specific responses from memory and shows that not all memory is
consciously activated (Tulving & Schacter, 1990), whereas
procedural memory is the slow and gradual learning of skills that
often occurs without conscious attention to learning (Eysenck, 2012;
Foerde & Poldrack, 2009).[better source needed]
Memory is not a perfect processor, and is affected by many factors.
The manner information is encoded, stored, and retrieved can all be
corrupted. The amount of attention given new stimuli can diminish the
amount of information that becomes encoded for storage (Eysenck,
2012). Also, the storage process can become corrupted by physical
damage to areas of the brain that are associated with memory storage,
such as the hippocampus (Squire, 2009). Finally, the retrieval of
information from long-term memory can be disrupted because of decay
within long-term memory (Eysenck, 2012). Normal functioning, decay
over time, and brain damage all affect the accuracy and capacity of
Memory loss is usually described as forgetfulness or amnesia.
1 Sensory memory
2 Short-term memory
3 Long-term memory
3.1 Multi-store model
3.2 Working memory
4.1 By information type
4.2 By temporal direction
5 Study techniques
5.1 To assess infants
5.2 To assess older children and adults
8 Cognitive neuroscience
10 In infancy
12 Effects of physical exercise
14 Influencing factors
17 Construction for general manipulation
19 See also
22 Further reading
23 External links
Main article: Sensory memory
Sensory memory holds sensory information less than one second after an
item is perceived. The ability to look at an item and remember what it
looked like with just a split second of observation, or memorization,
is the example of sensory memory. It is out of cognitive control and
is an automatic response. With very short presentations, participants
often report that they seem to "see" more than they can actually
report. The first experiments exploring this form of sensory memory
were precisely conducted by
George Sperling (1963) using the
"partial report paradigm". Subjects were presented with a grid of 12
letters, arranged into three rows of four. After a brief presentation,
subjects were then played either a high, medium or low tone, cuing
them which of the rows to report. Based on these partial report
experiments, Sperling was able to show that the capacity of sensory
memory was approximately 12 items, but that it degraded very quickly
(within a few hundred milliseconds). Because this form of memory
degrades so quickly, participants would see the display but be unable
to report all of the items (12 in the "whole report" procedure) before
they decayed. This type of memory cannot be prolonged via rehearsal.
Three types of sensory memories exist.
Iconic memory is a fast
decaying store of visual information; a type of sensory memory that
briefly stores an image which has been perceived for a small duration.
Echoic memory is a fast decaying store of auditory information,
another type of sensory memory that briefly stores sounds that have
been perceived for short durations.
Haptic memory is a type of
sensory memory that represents a database for touch stimuli.
Main article: Short-term memory
Short-term memory is also known as working memory. Short-term memory
allows recall for a period of several seconds to a minute without
rehearsal. Its capacity is also very limited: George A. Miller (1956),
when working at Bell Laboratories, conducted experiments showing that
the store of short-term memory was 7±2 items (the title of his famous
paper, "The magical number 7±2"). Modern estimates of the capacity of
short-term memory are lower, typically of the order of 4–5 items;
however, memory capacity can be increased through a process called
chunking. For example, in recalling a ten-digit telephone number, a
person could chunk the digits into three groups: first, the area code
(such as 123), then a three-digit chunk (456) and lastly a four-digit
chunk (7890). This method of remembering telephone numbers is far more
effective than attempting to remember a string of 10 digits; this is
because we are able to chunk the information into meaningful groups of
numbers. This may be reflected in some countries in the tendency to
display telephone numbers as several chunks of two to four numbers.
Short-term memory is believed to rely mostly on an acoustic code for
storing information, and to a lesser extent a visual code. Conrad
(1964) found that test subjects had more difficulty recalling
collections of letters that were acoustically similar (e.g. E, P, D).
Confusion with recalling acoustically similar letters rather than
visually similar letters implies that the letters were encoded
acoustically. Conrad's (1964) study, however, deals with the encoding
of written text; thus, while memory of written language may rely on
acoustic components, generalisations to all forms of memory cannot be
Main article: Long-term memory
Olin Levi Warner,
Memory (1896). Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson
Building, Washington, D.C.
The storage in sensory memory and short-term memory generally has a
strictly limited capacity and duration, which means that information
is not retained indefinitely. By contrast, long-term memory can store
much larger quantities of information for potentially unlimited
duration (sometimes a whole life span). Its capacity is immeasurable.
For example, given a random seven-digit number we may remember it for
only a few seconds before forgetting, suggesting it was stored in our
short-term memory. On the other hand, we can remember telephone
numbers for many years through repetition; this information is said to
be stored in long-term memory.
While short-term memory encodes information acoustically, long-term
memory encodes it semantically: Baddeley (1966) discovered that,
after 20 minutes, test subjects had the most difficulty recalling a
collection of words that had similar meanings (e.g. big, large, great,
huge) long-term. Another part of long-term memory is episodic memory,
"which attempts to capture information such as 'what', 'when' and
'where'". With episodic memory, individuals are able to recall
specific events such as birthday parties and weddings.
Short-term memory is supported by transient patterns of neuronal
communication, dependent on regions of the frontal lobe (especially
dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) and the parietal lobe. Long-term
memory, on the other hand, is maintained by more stable and permanent
changes in neural connections widely spread throughout the brain. The
hippocampus is essential (for learning new information) to the
consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory,
although it does not seem to store information itself. It was thought
that without the hippocampus new memories were unable to be stored
into long-term memory and that there would be a very short attention
span, as first gleaned from patient Henry Molaison after what was
thought to be the full removal of both his hippocampi. More recent
examination of his brain, post-mortem, shows that the hippocampus was
more intact than first thought, throwing theories drawn from the
initial data into question. The hippocampus may be involved in
changing neural connections for a period of three months or more after
the initial learning.
Research has suggested that long-term memory storage in humans may be
maintained by DNA methylation, or prions.
The multi-store model (also known as Atkinson–Shiffrin memory model)
was first described in 1968 by Atkinson and Shiffrin.
The multi-store model has been criticised for being too simplistic.
For instance, long-term memory is believed to be actually made up of
multiple subcomponents, such as episodic and procedural memory. It
also proposes that rehearsal is the only mechanism by which
information eventually reaches long-term storage, but evidence shows
us capable of remembering things without rehearsal.
The model also shows all the memory stores as being a single unit
whereas research into this shows differently. For example, short-term
memory can be broken up into different units such as visual
information and acoustic information. In a study by Zlonoga and Gerber
(1986), patient 'KF' demonstrated certain deviations from the
Atkinson–Shiffrin model. Patient KF was brain damaged, displaying
difficulties regarding short-term memory. Recognition of sounds such
as spoken numbers, letters, words and easily identifiable noises (such
as doorbells and cats meowing) were all impacted. Interestingly,
visual short-term memory was unaffected, suggesting a dichotomy
between visual and audial memory.
Main article: Working memory
The working memory model
In 1974 Baddeley and Hitch proposed a "working memory model" that
replaced the general concept of short-term memory with an active
maintenance of information in the short-term storage. In this model,
working memory consists of three basic stores: the central executive,
the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial sketchpad. In 2000 this
model was expanded with the multimodal episodic buffer (Baddeley's
model of working memory).
The central executive essentially acts as an attention sensory store.
It channels information to the three component processes: the
phonological loop, the visuo-spatial sketchpad, and the episodic
The phonological loop stores auditory information by silently
rehearsing sounds or words in a continuous loop: the articulatory
process (for example the repetition of a telephone number over and
over again). A short list of data is easier to remember.
The visuospatial sketchpad stores visual and spatial information. It
is engaged when performing spatial tasks (such as judging distances)
or visual ones (such as counting the windows on a house or imagining
The episodic buffer is dedicated to linking information across domains
to form integrated units of visual, spatial, and verbal information
and chronological ordering (e.g., the memory of a story or a movie
scene). The episodic buffer is also assumed to have links to long-term
memory and semantical meaning.
The working memory model explains many practical observations, such as
why it is easier to do two different tasks (one verbal and one visual)
than two similar tasks (e.g., two visual), and the aforementioned
word-length effect. However, the concept of a central executive as
noted here has been criticised as inadequate and vague.[citation
Working memory is also the premise for what allows us to do
everyday activities involving thought. It is the section of memory
where we carry out thought processes and use them to learn and reason
Researchers distinguish between recognition and recall memory.
Recognition memory tasks require individuals to indicate whether they
have encountered a stimulus (such as a picture or a word) before.
Recall memory tasks require participants to retrieve previously
learned information. For example, individuals might be asked to
produce a series of actions they have seen before or to say a list of
words they have heard before.
By information type
Topographic memory involves the ability to orient oneself in space, to
recognize and follow an itinerary, or to recognize familiar
places. Getting lost when traveling alone is an example of the
failure of topographic memory.
Flashbulb memories are clear episodic memories of unique and highly
emotional events. People remembering where they were or what they
were doing when they first heard the news of President Kennedy's
assassination, the Sydney Siege or of
9/11 are examples of
Anderson (1976) divides long-term memory into declarative
(explicit) and procedural (implicit) memories.
Main article: Declarative memory
Declarative memory requires conscious recall, in that some conscious
process must call back the information. It is sometimes called
explicit memory, since it consists of information that is explicitly
stored and retrieved.
Declarative memory can be further sub-divided into semantic memory,
concerning principles and facts taken independent of context; and
episodic memory, concerning information specific to a particular
context, such as a time and place.
Semantic memory allows the encoding
of abstract knowledge about the world, such as "Paris is the capital
of France". Episodic memory, on the other hand, is used for more
personal memories, such as the sensations, emotions, and personal
associations of a particular place or time.
Episodic memories often
reflect the "firsts" in life such as a first kiss, first day of school
or first time winning a championship. These are key events in one's
life that can be remembered clearly.
Autobiographical memory –
memory for particular events within one's own life – is generally
viewed as either equivalent to, or a subset of, episodic memory.
Visual memory is part of memory preserving some characteristics of our
senses pertaining to visual experience. One is able to place in memory
information that resembles objects, places, animals or people in sort
of a mental image.
Visual memory can result in priming and it is
assumed some kind of perceptual representational system underlies this
In contrast, procedural memory (or implicit memory) is not based on
the conscious recall of information, but on implicit learning. It can
best be summarized as remembering how to do something. Procedural
memory is primarily employed in learning motor skills and should be
considered a subset of implicit memory. It is revealed when one does
better in a given task due only to repetition – no new explicit
memories have been formed, but one is unconsciously accessing aspects
of those previous experiences.
Procedural memory involved in motor
learning depends on the cerebellum and basal ganglia.
A characteristic of procedural memory is that the things remembered
are automatically translated into actions, and thus sometimes
difficult to describe. Some examples of procedural memory include the
ability to ride a bike or tie shoelaces.
By temporal direction
Another major way to distinguish different memory functions is whether
the content to be remembered is in the past, retrospective memory, or
in the future, prospective memory. Thus, retrospective memory as a
category includes semantic, episodic and autobiographical memory. In
contrast, prospective memory is memory for future intentions, or
remembering to remember (Winograd, 1988).
Prospective memory can be
further broken down into event- and time-based prospective
remembering. Time-based prospective memories are triggered by a
time-cue, such as going to the doctor (action) at 4pm (cue).
Event-based prospective memories are intentions triggered by cues,
such as remembering to post a letter (action) after seeing a mailbox
(cue). Cues do not need to be related to the action (as the
mailbox/letter example), and lists, sticky-notes, knotted
handkerchiefs, or string around the finger all exemplify cues that
people use as strategies to enhance prospective memory.
To assess infants
Infants do not have the language ability to report on their memories
and so verbal reports cannot be used to assess very young children's
memory. Throughout the years, however, researchers have adapted and
developed a number of measures for assessing both infants' recognition
memory and their recall memory.
Habituation and operant conditioning
techniques have been used to assess infants' recognition memory and
the deferred and elicited imitation techniques have been used to
assess infants' recall memory.
Techniques used to assess infants' recognition memory include the
Visual paired comparison procedure (relies on habituation): infants
are first presented with pairs of visual stimuli, such as two
black-and-white photos of human faces, for a fixed amount of time;
then, after being familiarized with the two photos, they are presented
with the "familiar" photo and a new photo. The time spent looking at
each photo is recorded. Looking longer at the new photo indicates that
they remember the "familiar" one. Studies using this procedure have
found that 5- to 6-month-olds can retain information for as long as
Operant conditioning technique: infants are placed in a crib and a
ribbon that is connected to a mobile overhead is tied to one of their
feet. Infants notice that when they kick their foot the mobile moves
– the rate of kicking increases dramatically within minutes. Studies
using this technique have revealed that infants' memory substantially
improves over the first 18-months. Whereas 2- to 3-month-olds can
retain an operant response (such as activating the mobile by kicking
their foot) for a week, 6-month-olds can retain it for two weeks, and
18-month-olds can retain a similar operant response for as long as 13
Techniques used to assess infants' recall memory include the
Deferred imitation technique: an experimenter shows infants a unique
sequence of actions (such as using a stick to push a button on a box)
and then, after a delay, asks the infants to imitate the actions.
Studies using deferred imitation have shown that 14-month-olds'
memories for the sequence of actions can last for as long as four
Elicited imitation technique: is very similar to the deferred
imitation technique; the difference is that infants are allowed to
imitate the actions before the delay. Studies using the elicited
imitation technique have shown that 20-month-olds can recall the
action sequences twelve months later.
To assess older children and adults
Researchers use a variety of tasks to assess older children and
adults' memory. Some examples are:
Paired associate learning – when one learns to associate one
specific word with another. For example, when given a word such as
"safe" one must learn to say another specific word, such as "green".
This is stimulus and response.
Free recall – during this task a subject would be asked to study a
list of words and then later they will be asked to recall or write
down as many words that they can remember, similar to free response
questions. Earlier items are affected by retroactive interference
(RI), which means the longer the list, the greater the interference,
and the less likelihood that they are recalled. On the other hand,
items that have been presented lastly suffer little RI, but suffer a
great deal from proactive interference (PI), which means the longer
the delay in recall, the more likely that the items will be lost.
Cued recall – one is given significant hints about the information.
This is similar to fill in the blank assessments used in classrooms.
Recognition – subjects are asked to remember a list of words or
pictures, after which point they are asked to identify the previously
presented words or pictures from among a list of alternatives that
were not presented in the original list. This is similar to
multiple choice assessments.
Detection paradigm – individuals are shown a number of objects and
color samples during a certain period of time. They are then tested on
their visual ability to remember as much as they can by looking at
testers and pointing out whether the testers are similar to the
sample, or if any change is present.
Savings method – compares the speed of originally learning to the
speed of relearning it. The amount of time saved measures memory.
The garden of oblivion, illustration by Ephraim Moses Lilien.
Transience – memories degrade with the passing of time. This occurs
in the storage stage of memory, after the information has been stored
and before it is retrieved. This can happen in sensory, short-term,
and long-term storage. It follows a general pattern where the
information is rapidly forgotten during the first couple of days or
years, followed by small losses in later days or years.
Memory failure due to the lack of attention.
Attention plays a key role in storing information into long-term
memory; without proper attention, the information might not be stored,
making it impossible to be retrieved later.
Brain areas involved in the neuroanatomy of memory such as the
hippocampus, the amygdala, the striatum, or the mammillary bodies are
thought to be involved in specific types of memory. For example, the
hippocampus is believed to be involved in spatial learning and
declarative learning, while the amygdala is thought to be involved in
Damage to certain areas in patients and animal models and subsequent
memory deficits is a primary source of information. However, rather
than implicating a specific area, it could be that damage to adjacent
areas, or to a pathway traveling through the area is actually
responsible for the observed deficit. Further, it is not sufficient to
describe memory, and its counterpart, learning, as solely dependent on
specific brain regions.
Learning and memory are usually attributed to
changes in neuronal synapses, thought to be mediated by long-term
potentiation and long-term depression. However, this has been
questioned on computational as well as neurophysiological grounds by
the cognitive scientist Charles R. Gallistel and others.
In general, the more emotionally charged an event or experience is,
the better it is remembered; this phenomenon is known as the memory
enhancement effect. Patients with amygdala damage, however, do not
show a memory enhancement effect.
Hebb distinguished between short-term and long-term memory. He
postulated that any memory that stayed in short-term storage for a
long enough time would be consolidated into a long-term memory. Later
research showed this to be false. Research has shown that direct
injections of cortisol or epinephrine help the storage of recent
experiences. This is also true for stimulation of the amygdala. This
proves that excitement enhances memory by the stimulation of hormones
that affect the amygdala. Excessive or prolonged stress (with
prolonged cortisol) may hurt memory storage. Patients with amygdalar
damage are no more likely to remember emotionally charged words than
nonemotionally charged ones. The hippocampus is important for explicit
memory. The hippocampus is also important for memory consolidation.
The hippocampus receives input from different parts of the cortex and
sends its output out to different parts of the brain also. The input
comes from secondary and tertiary sensory areas that have processed
the information a lot already.
Hippocampal damage may also cause
memory loss and problems with memory storage. This memory loss
includes retrograde amnesia which is the loss of memory for events
that occurred shortly before the time of brain damage.
Cognitive neuroscientists consider memory as the retention,
reactivation, and reconstruction of the experience-independent
internal representation. The term of internal representation implies
that such definition of memory contains two components: the expression
of memory at the behavioral or conscious level, and the underpinning
physical neural changes (Dudai 2007). The latter component is also
called engram or memory traces (Semon 1904). Some neuroscientists and
psychologists mistakenly equate the concept of engram and memory,
broadly conceiving all persisting after-effects of experiences as
memory; others argue against this notion that memory does not exist
until it is revealed in behavior or thought (Moscovitch 2007).
One question that is crucial in cognitive neuroscience is how
information and mental experiences are coded and represented in the
brain. Scientists have gained much knowledge about the neuronal codes
from the studies of plasticity, but most of such research has been
focused on simple learning in simple neuronal circuits; it is
considerably less clear about the neuronal changes involved in more
complex examples of memory, particularly declarative memory that
requires the storage of facts and events (Byrne 2007).
Convergence-divergence zones might be the neural networks where
memories are stored and retrieved. Considering that there are several
kinds of memory, depending on types of represented knowledge,
underlying mechanisms, processes functions and modes of acquisition,
it is likely that different brain areas support different memory
systems and that they are in mutual relationships in neuronal
networks: "components of memory representation are distributed widely
across different parts of the brain as mediated by multiple
Encoding. Encoding of working memory involves the spiking of
individual neurons induced by sensory input, which persists even after
the sensory input disappears (Jensen and Lisman 2005; Fransen et al.
2002). Encoding of episodic memory involves persistent changes in
molecular structures that alter synaptic transmission between neurons.
Examples of such structural changes include long-term potentiation
(LTP) or spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP). The persistent
spiking in working memory can enhance the synaptic and cellular
changes in the encoding of episodic memory (Jensen and Lisman 2005).
Working memory. Recent functional imaging studies detected working
memory signals in both medial temporal lobe (MTL), a brain area
strongly associated with long-term memory, and prefrontal cortex
(Ranganath et al. 2005), suggesting a strong relationship between
working memory and long-term memory. However, the substantially more
working memory signals seen in the prefrontal lobe suggest that this
area play a more important role in working memory than MTL (Suzuki
Consolidation and reconsolidation.
Short-term memory (STM) is
temporary and subject to disruption, while long-term memory (LTM),
once consolidated, is persistent and stable. Consolidation of STM into
LTM at the molecular level presumably involves two processes: synaptic
consolidation and system consolidation. The former involves a protein
synthesis process in the medial temporal lobe (MTL), whereas the
latter transforms the MTL-dependent memory into an MTL-independent
memory over months to years (Ledoux 2007). In recent years, such
traditional consolidation dogma has been re-evaluated as a result of
the studies on reconsolidation. These studies showed that prevention
after retrieval affects subsequent retrieval of the memory (Sara
2000). New studies have shown that post-retrieval treatment with
protein synthesis inhibitors and many other compounds can lead to an
amnestic state (Nadel et al. 2000b; Alberini 2005; Dudai 2006). These
findings on reconsolidation fit with the behavioral evidence that
retrieved memory is not a carbon copy of the initial experiences, and
memories are updated during retrieval.
Study of the genetics of human memory is in its infancy. A notable
initial success was the association of APOE with memory dysfunction in
Alzheimer's Disease. The search for genes associated with normally
varying memory continues. One of the first candidates for normal
variation in memory is the gene KIBRA, which appears to be
associated with the rate at which material is forgotten over a delay
For the inability of adults to retrieve early memories, see Childhood
Up until the mid-1980s it was assumed that infants could not encode,
retain, and retrieve information. A growing body of research now
indicates that infants as young as 6-months can recall information
after a 24-hour delay. Furthermore, research has revealed that as
infants grow older they can store information for longer periods of
time; 6-month-olds can recall information after a 24-hour period,
9-month-olds after up to five weeks, and 20-month-olds after as long
as twelve months. In addition, studies have shown that with age,
infants can store information faster. Whereas 14-month-olds can recall
a three-step sequence after being exposed to it once, 6-month-olds
need approximately six exposures in order to be able to remember
Although 6-month-olds can recall information over the short-term, they
have difficulty recalling the temporal order of information. It is
only by 9 months of age that infants can recall the actions of a
two-step sequence in the correct temporal order – that is, recalling
step 1 and then step 2. In other words, when asked to imitate
a two-step action sequence (such as putting a toy car in the base and
pushing in the plunger to make the toy roll to the other end),
9-month-olds tend to imitate the actions of the sequence in the
correct order (step 1 and then step 2). Younger infants (6-month-olds)
can only recall one step of a two-step sequence. Researchers have
suggested that these age differences are probably due to the fact that
the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and the frontal components of the
neural network are not fully developed at the age of
In fact, the term 'infantile amnesia' refers to the phenomenon of
accelerated forgetting during infancy. Importantly, infantile amnesia
is not unique to humans, and preclinical research (using rodent
models) provides insight into the precise neurobiology of this
phenomenon. A review of the literature from behavioral neuroscientist
Jee Hyun Kim
Jee Hyun Kim suggests that accelerated forgetting during early life
is at least partly due to rapid growth of the brain during this
Memory and aging
One of the key concerns of older adults is the experience of memory
loss, especially as it is one of the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer's
disease. However, memory loss is qualitatively different in normal
aging from the kind of memory loss associated with a diagnosis of
Alzheimer's (Budson & Price, 2005). Research has revealed that
individuals' performance on memory tasks that rely on frontal regions
declines with age. Older adults tend to exhibit deficits on tasks that
involve knowing the temporal order in which they learned
information; source memory tasks that require them to remember the
specific circumstances or context in which they learned
information; and prospective memory tasks that involve remembering
to perform an act at a future time. Older adults can manage their
problems with prospective memory by using appointment books, for
Effects of physical exercise
Main article: Neurobiological effects of physical exercise
§ Long-term effects
Physical exercise, particularly continuous aerobic exercises such as
running, cycling and swimming, has many cognitive benefits and effects
on the brain. Influences on the brain include increases in
neurotransmitter levels, improved oxygen and nutrient delivery, and
increased neurogenesis in the hippocampus. The effects of exercise on
memory have important implications for improving children's academic
performance, maintaining mental abilities in old age, and the
prevention and potential cure of neurological diseases.
Much of the current knowledge of memory has come from studying memory
disorders, particularly amnesia. Loss of memory is known as amnesia.
Amnesia can result from extensive damage to: (a) the regions of the
medial temporal lobe, such as the hippocampus, dentate gyrus,
subiculum, amygdala, the parahippocampal, entorhinal, and perirhinal
cortices or the (b) midline diencephalic region, specifically the
dorsomedial nucleus of the thalamus and the mammillary bodies of the
hypothalamus. There are many sorts of amnesia, and by studying
their different forms, it has become possible to observe apparent
defects in individual sub-systems of the brain's memory systems, and
thus hypothesize their function in the normally working brain. Other
neurological disorders such as
Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's
disease can also affect memory and cognition. Hyperthymesia, or
hyperthymesic syndrome, is a disorder that affects an individual's
autobiographical memory, essentially meaning that they cannot forget
small details that otherwise would not be stored. Korsakoff's
syndrome, also known as Korsakoff's psychosis, amnesic-confabulatory
syndrome, is an organic brain disease that adversely affects memory by
widespread loss or shrinkage of neurons within the prefrontal
While not a disorder, a common temporary failure of word retrieval
from memory is the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. Sufferers of Anomic
aphasia (also called Nominal aphasia or Anomia), however, do
experience the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon on an ongoing basis due to
damage to the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain.
Interference can hamper memorization and retrieval. There is
retroactive interference, when learning new information makes it
harder to recall old information and proactive interference, where
prior learning disrupts recall of new information. Although
interference can lead to forgetting, it is important to keep in mind
that there are situations when old information can facilitate learning
of new information. Knowing Latin, for instance, can help an
individual learn a related language such as French – this phenomenon
is known as positive transfer.
Stress has a significant effect on memory formation and learning. In
response to stressful situations, the brain releases hormones and
neurotransmitters (ex. glucocorticoids and catecholamines) which
affect memory encoding processes in the hippocampus. Behavioural
research on animals shows that chronic stress produces adrenal
hormones which impact the hippocampal structure in the brains of
rats. An experimental study by German cognitive psychologists L.
Schwabe and O. Wolf demonstrates how learning under stress also
decreases memory recall in humans. In this study, 48 healthy
female and male university students participated in either a stress
test or a control group. Those randomly assigned to the stress test
group had a hand immersed in ice cold water (the reputable SECPT or
'Socially Evaluated Cold Pressor Test') for up to three minutes, while
being monitored and videotaped. Both the stress and control groups
were then presented with 32 words to memorize. Twenty-four hours
later, both groups were tested to see how many words they could
remember (free recall) as well as how many they could recognize from a
larger list of words (recognition performance). The results showed a
clear impairment of memory performance in the stress test group, who
recalled 30% fewer words than the control group. The researchers
suggest that stress experienced during learning distracts people by
diverting their attention during the memory encoding process.
However, memory performance can be enhanced when material is linked to
the learning context, even when learning occurs under stress. A
separate study by cognitive psychologists Schwabe and Wolf shows that
when retention testing is done in a context similar to or congruent
with the original learning task (i.e., in the same room), memory
impairment and the detrimental effects of stress on learning can be
attenuated. Seventy-two healthy female and male university
students, randomly assigned to the
SECPT stress test or to a control
group, were asked to remember the locations of 15 pairs of picture
cards – a computerized version of the card game "Concentration" or
"Memory". The room in which the experiment took place was infused with
the scent of vanilla, as odour is a strong cue for memory. Retention
testing took place the following day, either in the same room with the
vanilla scent again present, or in a different room without the
fragrance. The memory performance of subjects who experienced stress
during the object-location task decreased significantly when they were
tested in an unfamiliar room without the vanilla scent (an incongruent
context); however, the memory performance of stressed subjects showed
no impairment when they were tested in the original room with the
vanilla scent (a congruent context). All participants in the
experiment, both stressed and unstressed, performed faster when the
learning and retrieval contexts were similar.
This research on the effects of stress on memory may have practical
implications for education, for eyewitness testimony and for
psychotherapy: students may perform better when tested in their
regular classroom rather than an exam room, eyewitnesses may recall
details better at the scene of an event than in a courtroom, and
persons suffering from post-traumatic stress may improve when helped
to situate their memories of a traumatic event in an appropriate
Stressful life experiences may be a cause of memory loss as a person
Glucocorticoids that are released during stress, damage neurons
that are located in the hippocampal region of the brain. Therefore,
the more stressful situations that someone encounters, the more
susceptible they are to memory loss later on. The
CA1 neurons found in
the hippocampus are destroyed due to glucocorticoids decreasing the
release of glucose and the reuptake of glutamate. This high level of
extracellular glutamate allows calcium to enter
NMDA receptors which
in return kills neurons. Stressful life experiences can also cause
repression of memories where a person moves an unbearable memory to
the unconscious mind. This directly relates to traumatic events in
one's past such as kidnappings, being prisoners of war or sexual abuse
as a child.
The more long term the exposure to stress is, the more impact it may
have. However, short term exposure to stress also causes impairment in
memory by interfering with the function of the hippocampus. Research
shows that subjects placed in a stressful situation for a short amount
of time still have blood glucocorticoid levels that have increased
drastically when measured after the exposure is completed. When
subjects are asked to complete a learning task after short term
exposure they often have difficulties. Prenatal stress also hinders
the ability to learn and memorize by disrupting the development of the
hippocampus and can lead to unestablished long term potentiation in
the offspring of severely stressed parents. Although the stress is
applied prenatally, the offspring show increased levels of
glucocorticoids when they are subjected to stress later on in
Making memories occurs through a three-step process, which can be
enhanced by sleep. The three steps are as follows:
Acquisition which is the process of storage and retrieval of new
information in memory
Sleep affects memory consolidation. During sleep, the neural
connections in the brain are strengthened. This enhances the brain's
abilities to stabilize and retain memories. There have been several
studies which show that sleep improves the retention of memory, as
memories are enhanced through active consolidation. System
consolidation takes place during slow-wave sleep (SWS). This
process implicates that memories are reactivated during sleep, but
that the process doesn't enhance every memory. It also implicates that
qualitative changes are made to the memories when they are transferred
to long-term store during sleep. When you are sleeping, the
hippocampus replays the events of the day for the neocortex. The
neocortex then reviews and processes memories, which moves them into
long-term memory. When you do not get enough sleep it makes it more
difficult to learn as these neural connections are not as strong,
resulting in a lower retention rate of memories.
makes it harder to focus, resulting in inefficient learning.
Furthermore, some studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead
to false memories as the memories are not properly transferred to
long-term memory. One of the primary functions of sleep is thought to
be the improvement of the consolidation of information, as several
studies have demonstrated that memory depends on getting sufficient
sleep between training and test. Additionally, data obtained from
neuroimaging studies have shown activation patterns in the sleeping
brain that mirror those recorded during the learning of tasks from the
previous day, suggesting that new memories may be solidified
through such rehearsal.
Construction for general manipulation
Although people often think that memory operates like recording
equipment, it is not the case. The molecular mechanisms underlying the
induction and maintenance of memory are very dynamic and comprise
distinct phases covering a time window from seconds to even a
lifetime. In fact, research has revealed that our memories are
constructed: "current hypotheses suggest that constructive processes
allow individuals to simulate and imagine future episodes, happenings,
and scenarios. Since the future is not an exact repetition of the
past, simulation of future episodes requires a complex system that can
draw on the past in a manner that flexibly extracts and recombines
elements of previous experiences – a constructive rather than a
reproductive system." People can construct their memories when
they encode them and/or when they recall them. To illustrate, consider
a classic study conducted by
Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer
(1974) in which people were instructed to watch a film of a
traffic accident and then asked about what they saw. The researchers
found that the people who were asked, "How fast were the cars going
when they smashed into each other?" gave higher estimates than those
who were asked, "How fast were the cars going when they hit each
other?" Furthermore, when asked a week later whether they had seen
broken glass in the film, those who had been asked the question with
smashed were twice more likely to report that they had seen broken
glass than those who had been asked the question with hit. There was
no broken glass depicted in the film. Thus, the wording of the
questions distorted viewers' memories of the event. Importantly, the
wording of the question led people to construct different memories of
the event – those who were asked the question with smashed recalled
a more serious car accident than they had actually seen. The findings
of this experiment were replicated around the world, and researchers
consistently demonstrated that when people were provided with
misleading information they tended to misremember, a phenomenon known
as the misinformation effect.
Research has revealed that asking individuals to repeatedly imagine
actions that they have never performed or events that they have never
experienced could result in false memories. For instance, Goff and
Roediger (1998) asked participants to imagine that they performed
an act (e.g., break a toothpick) and then later asked them whether
they had done such a thing. Findings revealed that those participants
who repeatedly imagined performing such an act were more likely to
think that they had actually performed that act during the first
session of the experiment. Similarly, Garry and her colleagues
(1996) asked college students to report how certain they were that
they experienced a number of events as children (e.g., broke a window
with their hand) and then two weeks later asked them to imagine four
of those events. The researchers found that one-fourth of the students
asked to imagine the four events reported that they had actually
experienced such events as children. That is, when asked to imagine
the events they were more confident that they experienced the events.
Research reported in 2013 revealed that it is possible to artificially
stimulate prior memories and artificially implant false memories in
mice. Using optogenetics, a team of RIKEN-MIT scientists caused the
mice to incorrectly associate a benign environment with a prior
unpleasant experience from different surroundings. Some scientists
believe that the study may have implications in studying false memory
formation in humans, and in treating PTSD and schizophrenia.
Main article: Improving memory
A UCLA research study published in the June 2008 issue of the American
Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that people can improve
cognitive function and brain efficiency through simple lifestyle
changes such as incorporating memory exercises, healthy eating,
physical fitness and stress reduction into their daily lives. This
study examined 17 subjects, (average age 53) with normal memory
performance. Eight subjects were asked to follow a "brain healthy"
diet, relaxation, physical, and mental exercise (brain teasers and
verbal memory training techniques). After 14 days, they showed greater
word fluency (not memory) compared to their baseline performance. No
long-term follow-up was conducted; it is therefore unclear if this
intervention has lasting effects on memory.
There are a loosely associated group of mnemonic principles and
techniques that can be used to vastly improve memory known as the art
International Longevity Center
International Longevity Center released in 2001 a report which
includes in pages 14–16 recommendations for keeping the mind in good
functionality until advanced age. Some of the recommendations are to
stay intellectually active through learning, training or reading, to
keep physically active so to promote blood circulation to the brain,
to socialize, to reduce stress, to keep sleep time regular, to avoid
depression or emotional instability and to observe good nutrition.
Memorization is a method of learning that allows an individual to
recall information verbatim.
Rote learning is the method most often
used. Methods of memorizing things have been the subject of much
discussion over the years with some writers, such as Cosmos Rossellius
using visual alphabets. The spacing effect shows that an individual is
more likely to remember a list of items when rehearsal is spaced over
an extended period of time. In contrast to this is cramming: an
intensive memorization in a short period of time. Also relevant is the
Zeigarnik effect which states that people remember uncompleted or
interrupted tasks better than completed ones. The so-called Method of
loci uses spatial memory to memorize non-spatial information.
Method of loci
Mnemonic major system
Politics of memory
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